‘When I encounter a gender wall, I try to get through it’

‘When I encounter a gender wall, I try to get through it’

By Taru Bhatia | | 21 October, 2017
Gul Panag.
Actress, anchor, activist, wanderer and now a trained pilot, Gul Panag speaks to Taru Bhatia about the various aspects of her life, and her new travel show focused on India’s Northeast.

You have always been a frontrunner for gender justice and equality. How has been your journey as a gender activist been so far?

A. I was about 15-16 years old when I began noticing that the world with men is different, and the world with women is different, and till then I had not noticed that much. So I was in standard 10th or 11th when I noticed that there are subtly different rules for boys and girls and there was also a set of conditioning. When I was in school, girls were always picking up fashion magazines and boys who are always picking up car magazines. I was okay with fashion magazines but I also wanted to see what was there in the car magazines. When I asked the boys in my class to see if I could check out the car magazines, they said I was a tomboy; and I said, no I am not. I am just someone who wants to know other things as well. So I think my radar picked up different sets of conditioning and rules that existed. Over the years I have always, wherever I felt that there are different sets of rules, tried to bend them a little. So when I was in college, we had one hand-me-down gearless scooter and one motorcycle and I wanted the motorcycle. So everybody was like, take the gearless scooter and it is easy to ride for girls. But what’s the difference? Both are two-wheelers. Does that mean girls can’t use gears? So these little things have always been a part of the way I have thought from a very young age. Today, when I look back, I realise that I was rebelling, very actively. So wherever I find out that there is a gender wall, my first instinct is to try and get through it.

Q. At your wedding, you were seen as a bold bride. Sadly, there were people who criticised you for breaking the mould, while there were those few who also applauded you. How did you take the criticism, and the approbation, which came just after your wedding?

A. The next day, when I saw the newspaper and news channel had visuals, I felt that there was gender conditioning that was carried there. I didn’t want to be the bride who is quiet and shy on her wedding. I think that was the reason I did that and I am glad that more people are now breaking the mould.  My point is that people need  to have a conversation on these topics; and if there are conversations, that means there is a movement and a shift in ideology. First, people need to identify the problem and then address it; and the third step would be the difference which establishes gender equality. Also, there are certain people who are gaining from this lack of equality. When there is no equality, by default  there is a greater sense of privilege in men. When you start treating women equally, this sense of privilege will go away. There is going to be a backlash. The point is how pleasant can we make that. It is a slow process; we can’t expect an overnight change because if we are starting the process of addressing a problem now, we have to wait 40-60 years for results to come out.

Q. Looking back at your Bollywood journey, you have played several women-oriented roles in your movies. Was it a conscious decision or did it just happen?

A. My world view and the way I see life—that’s what is going to guide any decision I make, including the choice of movies. I can’t alter my world view. I have the highest respect for all kinds of actors who play all kind of roles, but I am drawn towards a certain kind of cinema and certain kinds of roles. Today there are enough films being made where women are driving the agenda. There are going to be few films where women will be protagonists because ultimately this is a male-dominated society. It is just like how we see fewer female pilots, directors, police professionals, lawyers. But it’s changing now. So overall, there is a pivotal change that is coming. What a filmmaker sees in society is what he or she is going to create in a film. As more and more women are doing mainstream jobs now, we will see more and more female protagonists in films.

Q. You have recently got your pilot’s license? How was it, learning to fly?

A. When I was 17, I wanted to learn how to fly. Over the last 4-5 years, I decided to make a go for it and give it my best. I had the opportunity and resources to make it happen, but I was also able to take time out, study for those exams, clear those exams and go out there and get the training until I got my license. So it was a big goal for me and I have a supportive family who supported me in all my interesting endeavors. The day I finished my training, I posted it on Instagram and in a few hours I was trending. I didn’t realise that the news of me getting a license could impact other people’s perspective as well, and it was very overwhelming.

Q. Could you tell us about your production house, Brouhaha?

A. Brouhaha is one of the things my production company does. I set up my production company five years ago. It’s called TLP (Tittar Lodge Productions), and we make all kinds of interesting content, from digital content to television programming to brand content. Brouhaha is our independent and original content vertical which we launched two months ago. Essentially, Brouhaha is for lifestyle content—it is for people on the go. The content is about films, fashion, fitness, food, sports, music, but for people on the go who do not have more than three or four minutes to watch it.

Q. Tell us about Off the Road: Season 2. How is this season different from the first?

A. The difference is that we are going to India’s Northeast, because I feel that that is a beautiful part of the country which is somehow not being explored so much.  I want more people to know about its beauty. My first season was also about the hills, and you can watch the seven minute clip if you don’t have to watch 30 minutes of the whole show. I want to make something that someone can watch anytime and anywhere.

Q. With this show, is it your intention to showcase the culture, traditions, food and beauty of the Northeast?

A. The theme of the show is travel. It’s essentially a road trip and the focus is the journey. But on the way there will be local food, culture, music, traditions and we will interact with the locals.

Q. Your show will only be available on a digital platform. Why did you choose YouTube as the only distribution channel for it?

A. I believe that the Internet is the future. People now don’t like the concept of watching something in a particular time zone. They want to watch something whenever they want. Today, the future of content is video on demand. You will watch the content whenever you want, and you’ll watch whatever you want to watch.

Q. Any other personal reasons for choosing the Northeast?

A. If you ask the average traveller where they want to go, the answer will be Goa or Manali. Why does nobody say Shillong? People have travelled so much to these popular destinations that everybody knows about them. But there so very little information available about the Northeast, and that’s why people do not want to travel there.

Q. Did you face any hurdles or challenges during your travels?

A. Yes. Twice we were stuck due to landslide and we lost a lot of time. But by and large we had a wonderful experience.

Q. There is a difference between a man going on a trip alone and a girl doing the same. Your views on girls travelling solo around India?

A. Solo girl trips should be undertaken after a lot of research. It is important that you are briefly aware of the place when you are undertaking a solo trip, otherwise one might get into a difficult situation which will make things uncomfortable. Groups of girls can definitely travel together. However, I would urge caution. Choose your places wisely with the utmost care. It is also very important to understand and appreciate the fact that there are certain safety measures to be taken when there are women on the road, and one must take all precautions. Also avoid travelling after dark— and that’s not only for women travellers but for all. I think planning and researching play a very important role when it comes to travelling.

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